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LinguaPhile, June 2002

A monthly e-mail newsletter nurturing the development and enjoyment of English language arts at home and at school.


June Literary Calendar

Any of these events might spawn further study.

7 Freedom of the Press Day
16, 1904 Bloomsday: the day detailed and immortalized in James Joyce's revolutionary stream-of-consciousness novel Ulysses. For more on James Joyce and his work (and other sites that commemorate this anniversary) see the June 2001 "LinguaPhile."
12, 1929 birth date of Anne Frank (d. 1945)
27, 1880 birth date of Helen Keller (d. 1968)
29, 1900 birth date of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (d. 1945)

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Quote of the Month: Talk

If we went out on the street dressed the way we talk, we should be arrested for indecent exposure.
-- James Thurber, U.S. writer and illustrator (1894-1961)

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Correcting the Pronunciation of Lucubrate

Charles Harrington Elster, guest columnist in the May issue and author of The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, pointed out that the May issue showed the wrong pronunciation for lucubrate. The second syllable should be /kyoo/ instead of /koo/. In rapid speech it might be /kyuh/: /LOO kyoo brayt/ or /LOO kyuh brayt/. Elster emphasizes, "To say LOO-koo-brayt is as inaccurate as saying AK-oo-rit for 'accurate.'"

I am grateful for this correction and hope that few of you have mispronounced lucubrate in the past month.

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Expand Your Vocabulary: punctilious

My uncle is punctilious about using the right tool for each job.

Other matters about which a person might be punctilious include dress, etiquette, table setting, introductions, and -- of course -- language.

Punctilious means "exact in observing the details of proper conduct and conventional matters." It is similar in meaning to meticulous, but it goes a step further since meticulous involves attention to detail but not necessarily conventional matters.

Punctilious is derived from a Latin word for "point." Other words in which you can see this root (and its meaning) are puncture, compunction, punctual, and, of course, punctuation.

Reviewers of Hands-On English have said that the vocabulary section alone is worth the book's modest purchase price. Learn more -- and place your order -- at

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Q and A: The Dreaded Subjunctive

Question: Which is correct -- "If it were possible" or "If it was possible"?

Answer: We've talked about subject/verb agreement -- how a subject and verb must both be singular or both be plural. Since we know that it and was are both singular and were is plural, the second choice appears to be the correct one.

However, a new wrinkle is present here: the subjunctive mood. While many uses of the subjunctive in English have disappeared over the last few centuries (having been taken over by helping verbs such as may and would), some remain.

There are three "moods" in English: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. (You might have inferred that mood here does not have its usual meaning of "emotional state"; it is a feature of a verb said to express "the attitude of the speaker toward his message.") Most sentences that we speak and write use the indicative mood. They make a statement "indicating" something, or they ask a question. Each sentence so far in this explanation uses the indicative mood. Sentences that make a command or request and have the "understood you" as their subject use the imperative mood:
Open the window. ("You" -- the person reading or hearing the sentence -- is the subject, the one expected to do the action.)

And then there is the subjunctive. The subjunctive mood is used in a dependent clause involving a statement contrary to fact. There are four types of clauses in which this might occur:
1. one expressing a wish: I wish I were fishing.
2. one beginning with if and expressing a condition contrary to fact: If I were a rich man . . . .
3. one beginning with as if or as though that includes speculation or a condition contrary to fact: The treasurer handles the company's money as if it were his own.
4. one beginning with that and expressing a demand, a requirement, a request, or a suggestion: It is important that everyone be present. (Notice that the subjunctive could be avoided with "It is important for everyone to be present," also correct.)

Although many clauses that use the subjunctive begin with if, if does not always signal a need for the subjunctive. Even when an "if clause" includes a condition contrary to fact, the subjunctive is not used after words such as ask and wonder in indirect questions:
We asked the waiter if the fish was fresh.

When if is used to indicate a situation that has a strong possibility of happening, the indicative mood should be used:
I will help him if he asks me.

Some idioms use the subjunctive:
Long live the king!
Be that as it may
Suffice it to say
Far be it from me
If it please the court
If need be

The subjunctive can be in either present or past tense, and it is important that the tense be consistent between the two clauses of the sentence. (Do you see the subjunctive in the preceding sentence?) The present tense of the subjunctive is the same as the base form of the verb. (This differs from the indicative only in third person singular, where an "s" suffix is added in indicative mood.) In past tense the subjunctive has the same forms as the indicative except for the verb "to be," which consistently uses were.

Fortunately, the subjunctive is easier to recognize -- and even use correctly -- than it is to explain or understand.

For dozens of examples of the subjunctive taken from the media: A quick glance at this page, where the subjunctive verbs are boldfaced, will show that the subjunctive is most likely to be be, were, or the base word. We don't even notice the subjunctive when it is identical to the indicative.

For an additional explanation of the subjunctive followed by a usage quiz:
Scroll down until you get to the "Mood" heading. After you have read the explanation of the subjunctive, you can take the 10-item quiz and get an explanation of each answer.

Hands-On English will put a wealth of information at your fingertips so that you can quickly find what you need to know about grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and more. Get details -- and place your order -- at

We invite your questions for this feature:

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Upcoming Exhibits: Des Moines and St. Louis

Conferences are a great place to
• get a firsthand look at Hands-On English products
• introduce your colleagues to Hands-On English products
• give feedback on products you're using (including suggestions!)
• get your questions answered
• avoid shipping costs on Hands-On English purchases

If you will be attending one of these conferences, be sure to stop by the Portico Books booth to say hello to Fran. Take your friends along!

• June 14-15: Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE) Des Moines
Fran will be presenting two workshops at this conference:
    • Giving Your Children a Solid Foundation in English (Friday, 2:30-3:30 p.m.)
    • Hands-On English (Friday 5:30-6:15 p.m.)
• June 26-27: St. Louis Christian Home Educators Fellowship (CHEF) Conference and Curriculum Fair

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Looking Ahead to the 2002-2003 School Year

If you're an educator, I hope you're planning to order a copy of Hands-On English for each of your students for next year. While this is a valuable resource for teachers, it is even more effective when it is directly in the hands of the students. Having the information at their fingertips helps students develop independence and confidence with English.

A copy of Hands-On English for each student makes the teacher's job easier as well. When students can quickly find and understand the information they need, teachers can more easily meet the diverse needs of students in their classes.

Substantial discounts are available on quantity purchases. Orders can be placed by phone, fax, or snail mail -- or on line.

If you have questions, or call (toll free) 1-888-641-5353. This number will also accept fax orders.

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Review: A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine, M.D.

Dr. Mel Levine, Founder of All Kinds of Minds Institute and Director of the University of North Carolina's Clinical Center for Development and Learning, describes himself as "a pediatrician with a mission." He is "obsessed with helping children find success." Indeed, after three decades of working in schools and with children, Levine is receiving national attention. Not only is A Mind at a Time a bestseller, Levine has recently been featured on several national talk shows and on the PBS documentary Misunderstood Minds.

A Mind at a Time is easy for the lay person to read and understand. Although Levine closely follows educational research, he does not cite research studies in A Mind at a Time. Rather he bases the book on "objective clinical observation." Levine writes, "For me these kids have been like textbooks on learning and mind development. I can learn more about a child by getting to know her well than by reading a list of computer-generated test scores. In fact, whenever I participate in the clinical evaluation of a child, I see some facets of brain function that I have never before seen."

A genuine appreciation of each child shines through each of the case vignettes that Levine includes in A Mind at a Time. This appreciation is not merely compassion for a child dealing with learning difficulties; it is a celebration of the unique combination of strengths and weaknesses that makes up each child's mind. Optimism also pervades the discussion of each child.

Levine identifies eight "neurodevelopmental systems" that work together during learning. The relationship between these systems is similar to that between the body's physiological systems (such as the circulatory system and the respiratory system). These eight systems are
• attention control
• memory
• language
• spatial ordering
• sequential ordering
• motor
• higher thinking (including problem solving, logical reasoning, critical thinking, creative thinking, and more)
• social thinking
Levine examines each of these systems in detail and includes "practical considerations" for helping children function well in each area. He says that many dysfunctions in these areas cannot be identified on any test.

Levine points out that people are expected to do well at everything only when they are children. Once they are out of school, they can select a career that is a good match to their neurodevelopmental strengths.

Levine believes that before addressing difficulties with learning it is important to examine "how learning works when it's working." This leads to an upward spiral for success as remedies for learning problems can be applied to improve learning strategies for all students.

Levine concludes A Mind at a Time with chapters about the roles of the home and the school in learning. He also provides an index and an annotated list of "Helpful Readings and Other Resources."

Published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster. 352 pages.

Available from A Mind at a Time

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Practical Suggestions from A Mind at a Time

These suggestions are only a sample of the concrete tips Dr. Levine includes in his book.

1. After a student has read an article or chapter, have him or her summarize it in 100 words. A few days later have the student shorten the summary to 50 words, a few days later to 25 words. This leads the student to identify the most important information. For many students this will be easier than beginning with a 25- word summary.

2. Activity #1 can also be conducted in reverse. Students who have a difficult time finding supporting details can start with a main idea and add important supporting information.

3. Frequent breaks allow many students to attend to their work better. Setting a timer or stopwatch for an appropriate, manageable work period can help a student sustain focus for a designated period.

4. After a student completes an assignment or test, have him or her estimate the grade the paper will receive. Being able to realistically assess one's performance is an important skill.

5. If a student is having difficulty with a particular procedure, have him or her talk through the steps of the process. The student can even tape record this and play the tape in order to review the procedure. This works for both academic and non-academic tasks -- double-digit multiplication, for example, as well as saddling a horse.

6. Parents can ensure that students get sufficient practice to make some tasks automatic. If decoding, letter formation, spelling, and math facts can be accomplished with minimal attention, the student will be able to devote more attention to skills that must be used simultaneously, such as comprehension, composition, and problem solving.

7. Students should make a specific plan for preparing for each test. This should include a timeline for preparation, a description of the material to be studied, a way of organizing the material so that it will be easier to remember, and methods of self-testing.

8. Have students make "an atlas of concept maps" in each class. A concept map can include such things as the critical features of a concept, examples of the concept, and related concepts.

9. The hour before bedtime is the best time to work with information that you want to put into long-term memory.

10. Each child should become an expert on a relatively narrow academic subject, such as elephants, castles, anything. In addition to the regular curriculum, the student will study this subject independently for at least three years. He or she will devour books on the subject, perhaps conduct experiments, build models, write reports and stories. The child will become such a recognized expert in the school (and perhaps in the larger community) that he or she will be called on to share information with others.

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Writing Ideas for Father's Day

All of the writing ideas for Mother's Day that appeared in the May "LinguaPhile" can be adapted for Father's Day:

Here are some additional ideas as well.

1. Write from the point of view of an inanimate object that is very important to your father: his golf bag, the refrigerator, his car, his cell phone, his wallet, etc. If this object could speak, what would it say to your father? You might express this object's general opinion, or you might narrate a special event (such as a golf tournament) from this object's point of view.

2. Imagine that your father had the opportunity to spend time with someone (or a group of people) he especially admires -- a historical figure, an ancestor, a well-known athlete, a politician or businessperson. How would these people interact? What would they do and say? Write a story -- or even just a dialogue -- to show what might happen.

3. Write down -- and perhaps illustrate -- one of the anecdotes that your father loves to tell (and that you might be tired of hearing). (If your father realizes that you have gotten the message, he might tell the story less frequently.)

4. Write a fable to illustrate a lesson (or moral) that your father often quotes to you (for example, Don't leave your bike in the driveway). (Remember that the main characters in fables are usually animals.)

5. Write a "tips list" for your father, such as "How to Finish Your Chores in Time to Play Golf." Keep the tone light but practical (for example, Have Child #1 cut the grass).

6. Write two versions of an event that you and your father experienced together, one from your point of view and one from your father's. The more dissimilar your experiences or your reactions to the event, the more effective this pair of contrasting narratives will be.

These six ideas, of course, could be used for mothers (or anyone else) as well as for fathers, so add them to your general list of writing suggestions.

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Puzzler: Word Riddles

Exercise your brain! Can you think of common English words that fit these descriptions?

1. a 7-letter word that includes none of the five vowels
2. a 15-letter word that uses all 5 vowels plus "y" and repeats no letters
3. a revolutionary English word that contains all five vowels and the letter "y"

Answers next month.

Answers to May Puzzler

a. bored board (a plank with holes drilled in it)
b. hoarse horse (beast of burden with laryngitis)
c. better bettor (the person who wins the wager)
d. fair fare (hot dogs and ice cream cones, for example)
e. Nome gnome (troll from western Alaska)
f. prose pros (people who make their living writing something other than poetry)
g. thyme time (when the herbs are added)
h. mean mien (vile countenance)

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Thank you for reading. If you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting, don't keep it a secret! Consider which of your friends would also enjoy it, and send them information about subscribing. We welcome your comments and suggestions:

The index to LinguaPhile, which is updated monthly, is now available in either a text or .doc format on the GrammarAndMore Web site:
This makes the information from previous issues readily accessible. You are encouraged to print the index for your convenience or to share it with friends. Why not send them the URL of the text version?
It's a gift you can give, yet still have for yourself!

© 2002 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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